He said: ‘There is now a rather striking gap if we look at the statistics, where it looks as if approximately 50 per cent of women are graduating from university by the time they are 30 and perhaps about 40 per cent of men.

‘This is where the sociologists step in and people think through the implications of that but we have got a gap in educational performance here that goes all the way through our schools and universities, and I want to see an improvement in educational opportunities for men and women because it does look as if the challenge we particularly face in our society at the moment is that the boys are lagging behind the girls.

‘It may, in turn, shift balance of earnings between women and men because it connects with what I was saying earlier that, by and large, graduates earn more.